Russell Group sign the Sorbonne Declaration on research data rights

Yesterday, Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group, signed the Sorbonne Declaration on research data rights.

Signing the declaration publicly states the research community’s commitment to sharing data, using FAIR data principles, and recognises the importance of sharing data in solving global concerns – for example, curing diseases, creating renewable energy sources, or understanding climate change. The declaration builds on and complements the Concordat on Open Research Data signed by Universities and funders in 2016, and the final report from the UK’s Open Research Data Task Force  published in 2018.

The declaration was also signed by the Association of American Universities, the African Research Universities Alliance, Coordination of French Research-Intensive Universities, the German U15, the League of European Research Universities, Research University 11, The Group of Eight, and the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities, collectively representing  160 research institutions across Europe, North America, Asia, Africa, and Australia.

In practice, the declaration underscores the commitment of Russell Group members and other similarly positioned research universities to encourage data sharing across institutions and geographical borders – by integrating FAIR data principles into institutional research data policies and supporting researchers in sharing data  through training and rewards –  which is fairly ubiquitous across similar declarations and documents. However, it also reiterates the need for an interoperable global research data environment which includes instruments and repositories which can work with each other, and asks that funders and governments provide funding and resources to facilitate this, and avoid lock-in to commercial platforms and data services, in the true spirit of ‘openness’.

New decade, new focus, new partnerships, all with an eye on the path for progress.


Notes from DCDC19: Navigating the digital shift: practices and possibilities (#DCDC19)

Notes from the Discovering Collections, Discovering Communities (DCDC19) conference, organised by The National Archives, RLUK and JISC, which took place 12th-14th November 2019, in Birmingham.

The theme of DCDC19 was billed as ‘navigating the digital shift’. As the conference progressed, however, unofficial themes soon emerged. On the first day of presentations (officially day 2 of the conference) it became apparent that the conference would be as much about ‘collaboration, consultation and communication’ as about the digital dimension. The scale of the digital endeavour means that these three aspects are essential to achieving digital projects that are relevant for their intended audiences. A second thematic strand around ideas of truth, misinformation, accurate representation, marginalisation and bias ran through many of the papers, as speakers questioned how well the Gallery, Library, Archive and Museum (GLAM) sectors represent communities or historical events, and examined issues of authenticity in the digital dimension. The first afternoon and evening were occupied with preconference events and the main business of the conference took place on days two and three, with keynotes plus a variety of panel session papers and workshops running in parallel.

Opening Keynote: Tonya Nelson, Director of Arts Technology and Innovation, Arts Council England

Tonya Nelson, giving the opening keynote, was the first of several speakers to consider the possibilities for representation of a wider range of perspectives in the digital world and the challenges and opportunities of the digital environment. She examined three key issues in the digital shift:

  1. Making sense of information Tonya asked how we can help people make sense of the vast range of information available and gave examples of different ways this may be done.
    • Historical data may be used to make sense of current phenomena, as in Anna Ridler’s Mosaic Virus , a video work generated by artificial intelligence, which links the “tulip-mania” of the 1630s to current bitcoin speculation.
    • Data may be visualised in new ways, such as the digital sculpture by Refik Anadol, Black Sea: Data Sculpture, based on high frequency radar collections of the Black Sea.
    • Immersive technology may be used to give a sense of the world around us, as in Resurrecting the Sublime, a digital art project recreating the smell of extinct plants in a herbarium collection, using DNA.
  1. Transforming information into power Tonya asked how we can help our audiences transform information into power so it can change their communities. Examples of this were:
    • Cleveland Museum of Art, which has made its collections open access and is encouraging people to remix and use them in interesting ways.
    • The British Library’s Imaginary Cities exhibition, which used the digital map archives to create new fictional cityscapes.
    • The Justice Syndicate, an immersive performance exploring how we navigate through information and misinformation, in which the audience act as a courtroom jury in a murder trial and are periodically fed information according to how they interact with the system.
  1. Supporting new forms of authorship Tonya considered how we can support new forms of authorship, particularly from underrepresented communities, and grapple with issues of authorship, ownership and artificial intelligence (AI) biases in the digital age? For instance:
    • Some marginalised authors self-publish poetry on Instagram, leading to the challenge of capturing and archiving material published on social media
    • Choreographer Wayne MacGregor’s Living Archive, used his extensive video archive to train AI to choreograph new dances, raising questions around authorship and the transparency of the training which underlies machine learning.
    • Machine learning bias was uncovered in a project aiming to identify black people in old master paintings, when machine recognition was unable to detect the black face in Manet’s Olympia, thereby further marginalising the minority figure. Machine learning needs to be inclusive.

In the question and answer session, Tonya discussed the need for organisations to identify which skills need development and announced the launch of a tool to help organisations benchmark their digital capability and make plans for improvement. The Arts Council also have Tech Champions to provide support. Tonya highlighted the need to consider the relationship with the audience for digital productions. As a good example of where wellbeing and the intersection between technology, art and health has been thought about, she cited Marshmallow Laser Feast’s We Live in an Ocean of Air, a virtual forest that monitors the participant’s body so they can see their breath and pulse. Tonya asked whether we are doing enough to draw in influences from the wider world? The Arts Council are working on the relationship between the tech sector and the cultural world. Other challenges were considered such as a lack of flexibility to act for archives in organisations that don’t have an interest in the forward-looking use of their services; upskilling the leadership and the need to meet the core remit. Key messages to take away were the importance of communication with intended audiences, collaboration with colleagues and fostering an innovation mindset in order to evolve from repositories to information laboratories and data activists.

Developing digital platforms

The panel sessions all comprised three papers, followed by questions and answers. The Developing Digital Platforms session was chaired by Chris Day of The National Archives.

Eating the elephant: tackling the Express & Star photograph archive one bite at a time

Scott Knight (University of Wolverhampton) and Holly McIntosh (Wolverhampton City Archives) described a partnership between their institutions and the Express & Star newspaper to digitise, catalogue, preserve and make available a photograph archive of 20th century life in the West Midlands. Having a Heritage Lottery Fund development grant to digitise the photographs meant that they had the help of an HLF mentor to understand the challenges of large-scale digitisation and of copyright issues. Public engagement and consultation were a significant element of the project and brought wonderful stories into the archive. Social media was used, which helped to identify locations and to connect people with the photographs and with long-lost relatives, and the project was also promoted through the Express & Star and on local television news. There was no dedicated project manager or team, but there were volunteers. This brought challenges of managing expectations, but a lot of sorting and tidying occurred as an additional benefit. The project is ongoing and now funded by local organisations.

The GDD network: towards a global dataset of digitised texts

Paul Gooding (University of Glasgow) described the AHRC-funded, Global Digitised Dataset Network, led by the University of Glasgow. It aims to address the feasibility of a global dataset of digitised texts and is working primarily with monographs. The key issue is that although much digitised text exists, there has been a lack of co-ordination at national and international level, which leads to fragmentation and problems of discovery. Paul outlined some of the context in which the network was working, such as a lack of supporting infrastructure to allow collaboration; the shift towards mass digitisation; and the growth of data-driven research. There was a need to move away from the idea of ownership and to balance the involvement and agendas of partners in the network. Paul also considered what global means, for example linguistic, cultural and technological inclusion, and how this relates to the remit and holdings of the national libraries. Discovery, access, and efficiency are priorities. Consistency would also be a benefit of a global dataset, for example having one first edition for referencing would be useful. However, the network found problems matching data between catalogues, so that detecting duplicates internationally will be difficult. A prototype dataset and report are expected in December 2019.

Manchester Digital Collections

Ian Gifford and John Hodgson (Manchester University) introduced Manchester Digital Collections, an enhanced version of the image viewer developed by Cambridge University, enabling viewing of high quality digital images, with the ability to zoom in on fine detail, download, or share on social media. The project involved collaboration between academics and cultural institutions at Manchester, as well as with Cambridge University colleagues, which brought a range of challenges and learning experiences. The different organisational structures and cultures (autonomous and devolved versus more centralised, technology driven versus researcher driven, risk taking versus risk averse) meant a risk of communication failure. This was addressed by a project board bringing together stakeholders to learn from each other. Another challenge was the difference in technical approach. Cambridge have a dedicated digital library team and use the cloud for hosting, while at Manchester, the Library team had to upskill themselves and take the lead, collaborating with their central IT department over local hosting. The benefit was a new co-operative relationship between the library team and IT services. Unlike Cambridge, whose digital content tended to be developed via funded projects, Manchester had to import a wide range of legacy data in various formats from various sources, which could not be achieved via an automated process, so much effort was required to transfer the content. Manchester are reviewing processes and training staff in order to standardise data more in future. Future directions include working on public engagement, moving towards an open source model, online exhibitions, and prioritising researcher requirements. In keeping with the unofficial conference themes, lots of the lessons learned were about the importance of communications and collegial working. It is hoped to eventually widen the partnership to other institutions.

Questions to the panel
The panel was asked about the sustainability of projects. It was felt that impact is important and there is a need to keep returning to the audience to make sure the project serving their needs and to see how the resource can be used in different ways for other activities and applications. There should be engagement with other projects to avoid replication. The panel discussed behaviours for effective collaborations and suggested these were transparency, understanding internal drivers, building a close relationship, not assuming goals or wishes, questioning assumptions about how things should be done, meeting face to face and mutually respecting expertise and differences. There was also discussion on dealing with anomalies in digital collections or catalogues. It is not possible to achieve perfection, but the audience can help point out deficiencies. It is important to use health warnings and to try to debias and be aware of worldwide audiences.

Keynote: Navigating the Digital Shift: Partnerships in Practice Liz Jolly, Chief Librarian, The British Library

Liz Jolly explained how the British Library’s strategy document ‘Living Knowledge’ encompasses the idea of making heritage accessible to everyone for research and also for inspiration and enjoyment, before going on the discuss its six purposes: custodianship, research, business, culture, learning and work with international partners. Her talk focused on the themes of partnership and engagement, openness and accessibility of spaces and information, and on diversity and inclusion. Examples given of partnerships were:

  • Business and IP centre National Network, in partnership with public libraries, which supports entrepreneurs across the UK to help start, protect and grow businesses. There is evidence that this is supporting diverse groups and being very effective in terms of return on public money invested.
  • Living Knowledge Network, a collaboration with national and public libraries to exchange knowledge and develop experiences for users.
  • Single Digital Presence report, which investigates what a national online platform for public libraries might look like. A single digital presence could mean different things: a deep shared infrastructure or single Library Management System for the country; UK-wide content discovery; unified digital lending; a social space; or a single library brand for public libraries, which would make it easier to advocate for public libraries.
  • UK Research Reserve, which partners with academic libraries in a space-saving exercise to deduplicate journal holdings around the UK.
  • The UK web archive, collecting digital publications and also material on the web.
  • The Living with Machines project, in partnership with the Alan Turing Institute, using big data for digital humanities research on the impact of technology on people’s lives during the Industrial Revolution.

Liz reflected that the benefits of working in partnership include learning from other organisations. She stressed that many of the elements of working successfully in the digital world are the human elements and we need to put co-creation of services at the forefront of what we do. Liz also focused on the importance of diversity and inclusion in partnering with our communities, pointing out that a CILIP workforce survey showed 97% or workers in the information sector identify as ‘white’ and 79% are female, though males in the sector are twice as likely to get a top job. Lessons learned included: the need to listen to our communities; the need to share our professional knowledge; that digital literacy needs to be bespoke, i.e. people need to be digitally literate in ways relevant to their work; becoming a reflective practitioner is important. The keynote ended by emphasising the importance of working together with communities to become more effective partners in the digital world. During the question and answer session, Liz explained that engaging minorities successfully is about going out and building relationships with people and also making spaces inviting and not intimidating. Liz spoke about dismantling barriers for entry to the profession, suggesting that perhaps the profession had focused too much on one method of entry and there should be multiple ways in that are different. Liz described libraries as constructed around 3 elements: content, space, and staff, with community being placed in the centre, but pointed out that it is the librarians who make the space a library.

The digital workforce: navigating the skills shift.

This panel session, chaired by Elizabeth Oxborrow-Cowan, aimed to explore how organisations are navigating the shift in skills, practices and professional culture in the digital age.

The everyday (digital) archivist

Jo Pugh (The National Archives) introduced the digital capacity building strategy Plugged In, Powered Up, with a focus on engagement, access and preservation, which are all key in increasing access to collections. Jo suggested organisations might approach digital engagement in different ways, such as using social media to tell stories, wikithons or engagement through Minecraft. As part of the strategy, digital engagement grants are offered to organisations interested in working participatively with audiences (deadline for applications January 2020). Jo referred to a survey, carried out with JISC earlier in 2019, which showed only 1 in 3 archivists feel they have the digital skills they need. The work being done by the National Archives on digital engagement includes

  • Working on a pilot to crowdsource cataloguing
  • Guidance on how to do research with digital collections
  • ‘Novice to Ninja’ digital preservation guidance
  • A taught course at TNA, ‘Archives School’, covering the practical skills of delivering digital preservation
  • Development of a digital leadership programme
  • DALE, the Digital Archives Learning Exchange, a network for archivists involved in digital work
  • Looking at alternative routes into the sector as current archival courses don’t equip people with the digital skills they need

Jo concluded by stating that archive professionals must continue to develop their skills as this is the biggest challenge facing the sector.

Keepers of manuscripts to content managers: navigating and developing the shift in archival skills

Rachel MacGregor (University of Warwick) looked at the hybrid environment in which archives are operating, which means that archivists need to keep their old skills as well as developing new ones to manage digital collections. Rachel outlined the barriers to developing new skills as time, resources, IT support, confidence and subject knowledge. The SCONUL report, Mapping the Future of Academic Libraries examined ways in which libraries could move into the digital sphere. Rachel said that archivists should stick to the values that define what they do and be open about practice, however in the digital realm, the pace of change is fast so it can be hard to get to grips with this practice. Rachel outlined some risks of not doing anything, including loss of reputation, inadequate resources and an inability to support users. Other challenges include descriptive standards, which may not be fit for purpose, and campaign for change is needed. Rachel acknowledged that digital collections can be difficult to make available as there are questions of copyright and data protection, but said that we should share good practice about how we make things available and how we present and promote collections.  She felt that it is unrealistic to expect to always meet the gold standard, but better to do something rather than nothing.

Archives West Midlands: new skills for old? The shift from analogue to digital.

Joanna Terry (Staffordshire Archives & Heritage) and Mary Mackenzie (Shropshire Archives) spoke about Archives West Midlands, established in 2016 as a charitable organisation with 16 subscribed members across the West Midlands. They outlined how the member organisations harnessed the power of collaborative learning to establish ‘digital preservation readiness’ and then to establish policies and guidance for navigating the skills shift from analogue to digital. With the help of funding from TNA and Worcestershire Archives and Archaeology service, and using The National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA) Levels of Digital Preservation, they surveyed the current situation and ongoing requirements, identifying technical gaps, limiting factors and priorities for development. They followed this with practical work. Workshops were delivered looking at Preservica and Archivematica, they engaged with IT services at a regional level and also developed documents, such as a digital preservation template, guidance for depositors and a business case that other archives can adapt and use. The last stage of the project was a knowledge exchange with another similar project.

Questions to the panel
The panel gave suggestions for getting started on the digital route, including taking stock at one’s own organisation to see what needs to be done, using free tools, finding something small to start with and talking to another archivist. The main message was just to have a go. There was also discussion of ways into the ‘Archives School’ course and it was emphasised that there should be different routes in, but that everyone is working together.

Value and the Digital Archive

Neil Grindley of Jisc chaired a panel session exploring how we assign value to archives and what competing notions of value mean in the digital space.

The end of value? Digital archives as cultural property

James Travers (The National Archives) shared the initial findings of his research into perceptions of the value of digital archives and asked whether the digital shift is a challenge to the view of archives as cultural property. He asked whether digital archives have the same financial, evidential, iconic, magical and social benefit as physical archives. Though the evidential value should, in theory, be the same for digital as for other archives, his research suggests that this might not be the case. James suggested a range of possible digital futures

  • The current mechanisms cope with digital archives
  • There are minor gaps in knowledge and skills that can be mitigated
  • Digital archives present a radical challenge and radical change is needed
  • New mechanisms are required to maintain archives as cultural property
  • Archives lose their status as cultural property and will need to seek funding from other sources.

The current hybrid collecting pattern will reach a tipping point where archives will become predominantly digital. Will these digital archives have less financial value? James concluded that despite the lack of a market currently, digital archives will maintain their value, but the rights may transfer from owner to institution.

Can digital archives be emotive? Developing a digital platform for the Manchester Together archive

Jenny Marsden (Manchester Art Gallery) described a project to catalogue and digitise items from the Manchester Together Archive of tributes left by the public following the Manchester Arena attack in 2017. Jenny explained that visits to the physical archive space are often emotional and there may be therapeutic value for families in visiting. The reasons for digitising the archive mostly related to the sensitivities surrounding the archive, for instance some people don’t want to come to Manchester and some still treat the archive as a memorial, not wanting items to be handled. There are similar online memorials for the 9/11 attacks and the Boston Marathon bombing and these digital archives are often seen as living memorials. Part of the project involved identifying potential audiences and engaging people to discover opinions. It was found that people responded strongly to photos of the memorial and liked the organisation and order of the archive, interpreting it as showing care. It is intended that the platform will enable storytelling. One idea is to undertake oral history interviews and to crowdsource data from those who left an item and are willing to say why. There is also interest in the geography of the collection and the journeys that items in archive have made. There were difficult questions to tackle surrounding the sensitivity of the archive. Some visitors felt the material was too personal to put online and some children were worried about the lack of control of comments about items online. Jenny asked whether it is responsible to create heightened emotion when no-one is there to provide support and concluded that physical and online archives don’t do the same things.

Touching the past through ‘digital skin’: communicating the materiality of written heritage via social media.

Johanna Green (University of Glasgow) discussed the importance of the sensory experience for students studying medieval manuscripts and the fact that digital images fail to represent “the smell, the heft, the texture, the sound” of texts. Her talk explored the potential of social media to bridge this sensory gap. Johanna used an Instagram account, as Twitter is perceived by students as “for old people”, to post images she had taken herself, trying to show what it’s like to be in the reading room. The comments showed students engaging with the images. It was found that traditional images fail to engage senses other than sight, whereas scruffy or complex items seem to capture the audience’s imagination. Images or video clips portraying the codex as a complete object, e.g. showing pages being turned, were the most engaging. The inclusion of curatorial hands in the image communicates sensory information, such as size, or how the book is opened, and as a result, students develop a deeper understanding of how and why manuscripts are complex objects.

Questions to the panel
The panel was asked how well the idea of value is understood. They answered that it is necessary to adapt the way you talk to your audience. Also, that it is easier to advocate for a project if there is support from the audience. Value comes from the engagement, which can be cast in monetary terms, e.g. having attracted x number of students to a course. One questioner asked about the emotive experiences of staff working on the Manchester Together Archive project. Staff worked with the Manchester Resilience Hub (set up in response to the Manchester Arena attack) on how to support volunteers. Volunteers are warned that the material might be upsetting and receive a debrief at the end of each shift. The monetary cost of projects requiring technology was raised and it was pointed out that though there might be a point where the monetary cost outweighs the value of the objects, there will be social value that accrues. Johanna Green was asked how important is it for one’s personality to come across on social media? She replied that there is an expectation of the types of comments that will be provided with the images and decisions to be made about how much to reply to comments or add information. Replying to comments can be time-consuming and a social media account takes lots of work .

Keynote: A Reckoning in the Archives / America’s Scrapbook Lae’l Hughes-Watkins, University Archivist, University of Maryland

Lae’l Hughes-Watkins delivered an impassioned and well-received keynote, using a vision of “America’s scrapbook” to illustrate the erasure of minority communities from history. She challenged the archives sector to confront the colonial, racist, sexist and classist approaches of traditional archival practice. She recounted her own realisation as a student that black history is underdocumented in the archives and said she became an archivist because she wanted archives to represent the full breadth of human experience. Much of her work has involved liaising with individuals and communities to overcome the distrust of institutions. Lae’l described her work in capturing student activism on campus, which is not represented in the traditional media, but in social media posts. There are challenges in archiving this material fairly as it is fragmentary and can lack context. Lae’l observed that “we are still unpacking what it means to archive the Now”. The keynote concluded with a challenge to the profession to let go of ideas of neutrality and to move to “be more honest with who we have been and have hope for what we might become”. The discussion following the keynote returned to the idea of neutrality and the fact that the act of deciding what to keep in an archive is not a neutral act. It also focused on the importance of working with communities. Lae’l described working with student activists to make them part of the process of determining how they want to be represented and remembered. She also discussed the necessity of outreach and engagement to gain the trust of potential donors.

Digital transformation: organisations and practices

This panel session, chaired by Karen Colbron (Jisc), considered how the digital shift is transforming our organisations and relationships with our audiences.

Ask your users. Then ask them again: embedding user research in a big institution

Jenn Phillips-Bacher (Wellcome Collection) spoke about the Wellcome Collection’s approach to putting user research at the heart of product development. The Wellcome Collection had found that typical digital project culture, with tight budgets and timelines, temporary teams and outside IT expertise tended to result in a proliferation of separate websites and a disjointed user experience. At the end of projects, websites are launched, evaluated too early and then left and expertise is lost because the team was temporary, but resources could be allocated differently. Wellcome are taking a holistic approach to bring together the Wellcome Library and Wellcome Collection under one banner in a single domain model and to shift from a projects model to a product model. The team includes the necessary IT expertise and also a user researcher to help grow a team understanding of user needs. Key aspects of practice that have transformed work are

  • Contact with users and moving to a more user-centric design
  • Frequency of testing with users
  • Recording and sharing the results of user research

User research matters because it

  • Means needs are better understood
  • Helps agile working as teams get immediate feedback and can shift direction accordingly
  • Increases visibility of users
  • Increases engagement with the website

Challenges include

  • Recruiting neurodiverse and minority groups
  • Recruitment logistics, e.g. finding the right people at the right time
  • Balancing larger research studies with week-to-week design testing
  • Time

Advice for getting started

  • Grow user research skills from within
  • Set aside time and talk to users regularly
  • Shift project-based research to the beginning and middle phases

Karen ended by asking how should the sector recruit for future tech leadership and digital roles and make itself more appealing to people with tech skills?

Life before and beyond the ‘absolute unit’.

Kate Arnold-Foster and Guy Baxter (University of Reading) talked about how building digital strategy into their work led to the success of the Museum of English Rural Life’s (MERL) Twitter account and their #digiRDG project. Before their Twitter success, MERL thought they were under recognised and under used and felt that digital engagement would raise their profile and cut some of the hard work of attracting visitors. They discovered by trial and error that one person taking control was a better way of managing a Twitter account than sharing the duty of posting around the staff. They undertook some user research to understand how the new rural generation were using digital technologies and they obtained Arts Council funding. The #digiRDG project took a broad approach to digital culture and used agile techniques and regular digital content meetings to bring rigour to work. There is now also a following on Instagram and they have moved into 3D scanning and 3D printing. Not all staff had digital skills but had to stretch themselves. Kate and Guy felt it was important to focus on the conversation between themselves and their users, on the conversation between the museum, library and archive at Reading University, and on the conversation between the digital and the physical.

The wobbly stool: same goals, new roles

Joanna Finnegan (National Library of Ireland) described digital preservation as a three-legged stool, with a balance of technology, organisation and resources, and outlined how the National Library of Ireland has balanced these elements in managing the impact of the digital shift on collecting practices. She said that policies need to include collecting digital content and to recognise that “digital is different”. It was found that co-locating collection and technical staff was helpful. The resources which are most difficult to obtain and keep are staff. Demand for IT skills in Ireland is very high, as it is a large exporter of software. It was found that starting with technology can be a barrier, especially for small organisations, whereas digital preservation is much more than a technological issue. Joanna said that the important element is people and the ability to build relationships with creators and users. There is a need to work with these at an earlier stage than when collecting physical materials. For born digital collections, establishing relationships with donors is important.   There is a need to be more proactive in building relationships with creators and users. The digital collections need to reflect diverse aspects of Irish life, as archiving the .ie domain is not part of Irish legal deposit regulations. Joanna summarised the relationship between physical and digital archiving, saying the goals are the same but the roles are different.

Questions to the panel
The panel was asked about planning. MERL had policies and procedures, but not everything was planned. Wellcome have shortened their planning time frame, looking three years ahead rather than ten. Co-operation between the GLAM sector and Google, as well as other large social media organisations, was discussed. It was felt that this would have to come at a governmental level, but that the main challenge is the one-way relationship of giving away content without learning anything about the usage or engagement. By using social media tools it is possible to engage with a huge audience for free. There was a question about what to deprioritise in order to achieve the digital shift. At the National Library of Ireland everybody kept on doing what they were already doing. MERL prioritised employing someone from outside the sector who had a real understanding of social media.

Keynote: Digital scholarship: Intersection, automation and scholarly social machines David de Roure, University of Oxford

David De Roure discussed the role of digital scholarship in research, sharing stories of his journeys into the evolving knowledge infrastructure. He defined digital scholarship in terms of the balance between people and computers, with more computers leading to distributed computation, more people leading to social networks, but lots of both resulting in digital scholarship and, eventually, to automation and machine learning. David first talked about social machines, where “people at scale meet computation at scale or the crowd meets the cloud”. His example, Galaxy Zoo, was a citizen science project where people helped classify large numbers of galaxies. It has now grown into the Zooniverse platform where anyone can build a citizen science project. Whereas one model of citizen science involves people doing independent work without talking to each other, in the case of Galaxy Zoo there was interaction between contributors which led to new discoveries. Galaxy Zoo also introduced machine learning, where contributors could assist the galaxy-classifying robot to improve. Reproducibility was covered next. Researchers need to keep records of how data has been processed, for purposes of reproducibility. David described the myExperiment project for sharing workflows, which led to Research Objects, which aims to improve reuse and reproducibility of research by supporting the publication of data, code and other resources and enriching them with any information required to make the research reusable and reproducible. Another social machine, MIREX (Music Information Retrieval Evaluation eXchange) brings the music information retrieval community together to improve the analysis of musical features. This is non-consumptive research, where a code is run over an archive without extracting content, meaning it can run over copyrighted material. It was used to analyse data in the SALAMI project (Structural Analysis of Large Amounts of Music Information) which applies computational approaches to the large volume of digital recorded music now available, in order to develop an infrastructure for conducting research in music structural analysis. David talked about new and emerging forms of data, such as tracking data, satellite imagery, social media data and data gathered by other online interactions, e.g. the internet of things, and also about found data, which is a side effect of other research and can cause tension with the established Social Science practice of carefully designed data collection. He said that understanding the processes that create the data is crucial in understanding the data. There is also sometimes an accidental assembly of processes, for instance if devices autocorrect text and accidently jump onto a different social machine. There are huge reproducibility issues with these data, for example it would be hard to reproduce a piece of research using the same Twitter data. Data is increasing massively in scale and the digital is interacting with the human (e.g. in social media) and with the physical (e.g. the Internet of things). The Living with Machines project, previously mentioned by Liz Jolly, was given as an example of the work of the Alan Turing Institute, which brings together Humanities and Data Science. Among the data-driven approaches it has used are experiments conducted though hackathons or datathons and machine-learning. A takeaway message was that “machines are users too”. David’s final story was about a project to build an AI based on Ada Lovelace’s ideas about the possibility of programming music with Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine. It would be possible to take a historical figure, study what they wrote and create an AI for them. The conclusion of the keynote was that we need to experiment. We have all the pieces of the future but haven’t figured out how to put them together yet.

Enabling digital scholarship

Jane Stevenson (Jisc) chaired this panel session focusing on how digital scholarship is facilitating and supporting innovative research.

Shaping the market: Developing scalable, researcher-oriented TDM services

Mike Furlough (HathiTrust) and John Walsh (HathiTrust Research Center) talked about text and data mining (TDM) services in the context of US copyright laws. They explained the HaithiTrust is fully funded by over 150 members. It builds the collection, preserves it and makes it accessible but also does other work such as investigating copyright status, collection management, e.g. linking print accessioning and deaccessioning to digital preservation, and work around TDM. The collection is predominantly books, with about half in English. The use is restricted with only about two fifths open for public reading. The collection is generally representative of North American libraries and is hosted at the University of Michigan, though some services and activities are hosted elsewhere. The members share expertise in order to do more with the collection. The HathiTrust Research Center was set up with the aim of developing scholarship in ways that haven’t been used before. The idea for developing the Center originated in part from the ruling that non-consumptive use was to be considered fair use in US law, though this is complicated by licences and it is important to be careful about how analysis is carried out on the in-copyright material. Services provided by the HTRC include:

  • Extracted features – downloadable datasets of page level metadata and word counts, that can be used for topic modelling, linguistic analysis, among other things. They are not suitable for the novice user
  • Web based algorithms for text analysis, which are more suitable for novice users.

Outreach and training are also provided. An example of research enabled by HaithiTrust was an analysis of 104,000 novels, which found that as gender equality gradually increased over time, the number of female characters and proportion of female authors decreased. Two important issues were raised. One is that research questions are not limited to individual collections, but span content that comes from different sources or aggregators. Questions of copyright can be confusing with content from licensed resources. For ECRs and new researchers, there are only limited training resources to help. Secondly, data from multiple sources will be provided in different forms, so it is necessary to do data cleaning. This adds to the need for training. Mike and John ended by asking how best to provide infrastructure and support and whether partnerships might be the answer.

Living with ‘Living with Machines’

Mia Ridge (British Library) discussed some early lessons learnt from working on the “Living with Machines” project, a 5 year partnership between the BL and the Alan Turing Institute to develop data science methods to ask historical questions using digitised collections at scale. The project brings together historians and data scientists and also invites the public to join the process. It makes methods, tools and code available for others to use. It is enhancing the BL data holdings, e.g. by disambiguating place names. The project is also asking how the work with the collections can be integrated into teaching data science and is trying to help politicians understand that the GLAM sector can do innovative digital work. The BL hopes to incorporate data science into its events programme. Challenges have been:

  • Copyright – balancing openness with rights
  • Expense of working at terabyte scale
  • Challenges around workflows and ingest
  • Sharing openly and early without gazumping people’s research
  • Competing goals and deadlines at the BL
  • Thinking about both scale and complexity at the same time
  • Integrating crowdsourcing with academic processes and explaining academic processes to the public
  • Bottlenecks that arise from having to wait for expertise
  • Aligning ideas about whether to make code from scratch
  • Access in the secure environment

Early research outcomes have been shared and the team skills have increased.

Providers, partners, pioneers: the development and diversification of digital scholarship services within Research Libraries and the potential for cross-sector collaboration

Matt Greenhill (RLUK) presented the results of a digital scholarship survey, published earlier this year and explored the role of the research library in delivering digital scholarship services. Some of the findings covered were:

  • Defining digital scholarship is challenging, especially identifying what it means in practice for a research library, but 78% of organisations did have a definition, which was often aligned with their strategy. As it is a fluid term, lots of activities were encompassed in the survey.
  • For activities surrounding the collection, respondents were confident and proficient. In more technical and specialist areas the proficiency was emerging and these activities were less likely to occur within the library.
  • There is a mixed economy of support and the library is just one of the places researchers may go for support, though this situation appears to be changing.
  • Many libraries are involved in digital scholarship initiatives, many of which originate from academics. But this can mean it is reactive in its services.
  • Many libraries are looking to move from the role of service provider to active, costed partner, in order to have more of a voice throughout the process and to work in a more sustainable way.
  • There are implications for the ways that libraries are structured. 11 libraries now have dedicated digital teams. These can ease communication, providing a single point of contact. New roles have been developed or rescoped. Dedicated spaces are also being created, providing physical and intellectual space for creation and collaboration.
  • Activities are now increasingly being driven by overarching strategy.
  • In the shift from analogue library to mixed digital and analogue economy, there is a two-way relationship between digital scholarship and digital collections in the library. The increasing volume of digital collections is opening a wider range of opportunities for researchers and this in turn is highlighting the role of the library as a digital repository.
  • The increase in born digital collections brings challenges, such as the need for automated processes and secure access.
  • The Library has the potential to be an active broker between multiple groups. It can provide spaces and be a catalyst for collaboration. It can act as a shop window for the institution, a place for experimentation and an incubator for collaboration.
  • There is potential for cross-sector collaboration, e.g. between public libraries and universities around digital skills and scholarship, and also for collaboration in the international sphere, which RLUK is exploring.

Questions to the panel
The panel debated whether the term ‘digital’ creates an artificial division. It was thought that in terms of advocacy and because it is quite new, it can be a helpful term, but it depends on the audience. The term ‘digital humanities’ may eventually disappear, but for now it has a lot of utility. There was some discussion about the introduction of bias when there are sources missing in large aggregations and about how to represent “negative metadata”. It was thought that the structure of the library within the institution and whether it is conjoined with IT Services may have a bearing on the success of efforts to create partnerships. Some people thought that having a dedicated digital team helped. One museum/archive has made their collections data open access so they have their own dataset to use for demonstration and training. They run a library carpentry session for researchers.

Blockchain: the future for collections?

The final panel session, chaired by Matt Greenhall (RLUK) explored how blockchain technology could be used in the cultural sector.

ARCHANGEL – Trusted archives of digital public records

Alex Green (The National Archives) reported on research carried out in collaboration with the University of Surrey and the Open Data Institute on the potential of blockchain to underscore trust in digital records. He explained that digital files may be altered by archivists for legitimate reasons, e.g. conversion of the file format for presentation purposes, but users need to know that the file is a genuine copy of the original and not maliciously altered. The research project, which ended in June, used blockchain technology to prove that no changes had been made to a record, or that any changes made were legitimate. Checksums, which are like unique fingerprints for a file consisting of letters and numbers, and other metadata were written to a blockchain. Multiple organisations then held a copy of the contents. The distributed network meant that consensus could be achieved because nothing written to a blockchain can be changed. The chain that links blocks together is made of the checksum of the previous block and a new checksum, which is generated based on the content and on the old checksum. For files that were legitimately altered, it was thought that checksums of the software used to change the file could be added to the blockchain. Alex emphasised that collaboration between archives is key to the successful use of blockchain.

Blockchain and the museum: turning digital fragmentation into social value

Frances Liddell (University of Manchester) drew on her collaborative PhD project with National Museums Liverpool in order to address the question of what blockchain can do for the GLAM sector and how we might turn digital fragmentation, found on blockchain technology, into social value. Ideas of being collaborative, visitor-focused, inclusive and ethical and cultivating social value were all incorporated into the project. Frances discussed the concept of collective ownership, which is less about physical ownership and more about co-operation, with the focus is on guardianship rather than cultural property. Collective ownership in the digital domain has an extra layer of complexity because it challenges the notion of authenticity as well as the idea of the museum acting as keeper or authority over items in its collections. Frances linked this idea to the Open Museum movement, which releases digitised collections online under creative commons licences. Frances explained the qualities of blockchain, using the example of the blockchain game CryptoKitties, and how blockchain can prove the authenticity of a document. Blockchain can be used when selling digital art, as the consumer knows that the art’s authenticity can be proven. Shared ownership can also be tracked on blockchain and a sense of social community can be formed. Frances concluded that blockchain is not a fully formed solution to issues of ownership online, but can help build collective ownership and shared authority between museum and audiences.

Introducing Project Arbour, a digitisation and cultural blockchain catalogue access project

Geoff Blissett (Max Communications) discussed a collaborative project with Centre for Scientific Archives and Cognizant to digitise catalogues of the manuscript papers of scientists and make them cross-searchable, adding blockchain technology for verification purposes. A prototype application was built and testing with user groups has begun, which has been effective in identifying potential risks and problems and quantifying how useful it will be. They are currently in the process of developing use cases. Like the other panel speakers, Geoff briefly explained the principles of blockchain and said that the blockchain element helps with transparency and giving users confidence in the veracity of the material. It provides traceability as it is possible to see where any changes are made and it provides an audit trail, showing where an item has come from and the steps it has made on its journey, so it can help with identifying human errors, or questions or disputes about ownership of a document or copyright. Geoff outlined the workflow: The collection holders provide the material, which is digitised and digitally preserved by Max Communications.  The package, including metadata and PDFs, is then passed to Cogizant who put it into a blockchain and load it into the cloud.

Questions to the panel
The panel were asked about the environmental considerations of blockchain, in terms of energy usage. It was explained that a private blockchain takes less energy. There were concerns that blockchain technology could become obsolescent quite quickly. Whilst acknowledging the dangers, it was generally thought that blockchain is here to stay but is in its infancy. The community is still trying to see if it works and can make a difference.

Videos of some of the keynotes and audio recordings and slides of some of the panel session papers are available.

Conference delegates were left with plenty of food for thought (and plenty of time to think about it on the way home, as trains from Birmingham New Street were delayed by flooding disruption). Take home messages included the importance of collaboration, as partner institutions can achieve more together. Collaboration also needs to take place with stakeholders and with end-users, and good communication is key to collaboration. The GLAM profession needs to become more representative of communities and to be inclusive and welcoming. There are challenging questions to tackle of authenticity, bias and ownership in the digital world. We need to learn new digital skills, take some action and embrace the digital shift.

An academic library explores the third dimension

Image: Interior St. Sophia church photogrammetry scan by Miguel Bandera. CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike

Tying nicely with Catherine’s ‘Digital Toast’ post of last month. I’d like to share a case study explaining why the Research Support team is currently exploring the third dimension and how the work will help shape the new university library. The case study has been prepared for RLUK’s Digital Scholarship Network.


In summer 2018 plans for a new central university Library here at Bristol, reached an important milestone; the initiation of Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Stage 2: Concept Design. This stage calls for more clarity about what’s to be built. By this point, many of the functions of our new library were clearly defined and understood. Plans for study spaces, for example, were already defined in terms of scale. We also had a good idea of what the nature of these study spaces would be.

One area which was not so clearly defined was the library-as-laboratory. This concept relates particularly to, but is not limited to, arts and humanities research. The idea that the Library could usefully serve as a hands-on space for ‘making’ research, had been in place since the new library’s initial conception.

There are several factors which led to this decision; Bristol’s expanding academic interest in digital humanities, the founding of a dedicated Research Support team with the library, the growing importance of working with partners within the creative industries.

By the beginning of RIBA Stage 2 we knew we wanted a ‘maker space’, and also that the library-as-laboratory concept could extend further than this, into the University’s plans for creating a new cultural collections space.

Identifying the need

In 2018 the Research Support team led a requirements gathering exercise, clarifying the practical requirements for the library-as-laboratory idea. Several different areas emerged as being of interest to our researchers and research students; for example, network analysis and text mining. However, this case study will focus on one particular area of unexpected interest, one which has implications for us as we build our new library; the creation, use and sharing of digital 3D information.

Among the most popular topics was the digitisation of 3D objects and so the Research Support Team implemented new training and since 2017 we’ve offered regular hands-on workshops in both 2D and 3D digitisation and attendance has always been strong.

With the aim of gathering more data, in early 2018 we began a series of drop-in sessions around campus. These took the 2017 survey as a starting point and allowed us to actually demonstrated many of the technologies which appeared to be of interest to our researchers.

The 3D tool sand technologies we demonstrated were;

  • Structured light 3D scanners
  • Digital 3D models produced via photogrammetry
  • 3D prints and a 3D printer
  • A 360 degree, stereoscopic video camera, the Insta360 Pro. 360 degree video had been linked to VR in the 2017 survey
  • VR headsets showing both 360 videos and digital 3D games with a research focus
  • A holographic monitor (the Looking Glass by the Looking Glass Factory)

Image: Drop-in technology session, Faculty of Arts

These events were aimed at both academic staff and research students although precisely who was invited was left to administrative staff at school level. We also put up posters advertising each event, and anyone was welcome to attend.

The results included some surprises including;

  • A truly cross-discipline interest from within the Arts and Social Sciences faculties
  • An interest in 3D motion capture (of human movement), principally from Drama. We’d not considered this before
  • Questions over digital 3D content as part of the standard library stock were raised. E.g. library access to VR games or 360 video programmes

The information we’ve gathered so far has been reinforced with several useful visits to other research organisations; most notably Edinburgh University and Exeter Digital Humanities Lab.


Despite their broad research aims, we’ve been able to define a set of digital 3D activities which are of interest to our researchers. They are:

  • Topographical 3D scanning of tabletop-scale objects
  • Topographical 3D scanning of larger than tabletop-scale objects, this to include truly portable equipment for architectural and archaeological field work
  • Capture of 3D human motion
  • Building digital 3D models from scratch or enhancing 3D scans or motion capture data using computer graphics applications
  • Taking 3D assets and adding interactivity, ideally achieved using an off-the-shelf game engine
  • Packaging 3D scans for delivery via a specific hardware or software platform
  • Delivery of 3D data, including but not limited to; in-browser, VR headset, AR headset, CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) projections and 3D prints
  • Not truly 3D, but there is also a clear interest in stereoscopic, 360 degree immersive video, especially when coupled with VR as a delivery mechanism

Our aim is to build a facility which will support these. The new types of spaces we believe are needed are adaptable, have controllable lighting and be as large as as we can make them. Areas with benches will support table-top work while open plan areas will be used for large-scale 3D scanning, VR and motion capture. These spaces will be located predominantly within the maker space but other parts of the library will also play a part. For example, the new Cultural Collections area will have it’s own 3D scanning area and a new exhibition space will support group VR.

We’re not yet at the stage of producing a detailed breakdown of running costs but we acknowledge the need for ongoing investment in staff equipment, as the technologies we’ve chosen to support evolve rapidly and become out of date quickly.

The range of research activities we’ve identified which involve the creation, use or dissemination of 3D content has been immense; from digital anastylosis within Archaeology to 3D printing life-sized Czechoslovakian landmines in History.

Identifying exactly how 3D tools and techniques will be used within research has proven not only impossible but counterproductive since we actively encourage innovative uses. Fortunately, we have found that we’ve been able to make progress without prescribing how we expect our new facilities to be used.

Lessons learned so far

  • Our expectation that disciplines such as Archaeology would have a high degree of interest in digital 3D while disciplines such as Philosophy would not, has proved largely unfounded
  • Investing in this area has benefited our in-house cultural collections. 3D scanning has offered us an important way to maximize the potential of artifacts, costumes and physical models
  • As the research support team, research has been our focus, but most of what we’ve established and achieved is relevant to teaching and learning uses of digital 3D
  • Much of the work we’ve been doing has been reactive but there is a proactive element. We hope that if we build inspiring research spaces, inspiring research will follow

Digital toast: an introduction to photogrammetry

Photogrammetry is a technique which uses a series of 2D images of an artefact, building or landscape to calculate its 3D measurements. In the past it was done manually, but nowadays it involves feeding a number of 2D photographs of the subject, taken from different perspectives, into specialist software, which uses them to construct a digital 3D representation.

The digital 3D model may then be manipulated on a screen to show different angles, viewed in virtual reality or as a “fly-through” video, or printed using a 3D printer. It may be useful for study in research, teaching or to ensure preservation of the original.

Compared to other methods of 3D digitisation, photogrammetry is inexpensive, requiring, at the most basic level, only a camera and access to the relevant software program. It is particularly suitable for projects where a photorealistic model is needed.

This blog post recounts the experiences of a non-technically minded beginner in making two 3D digital models and hopefully illustrates that anyone can carry out a basic 3D digitisation project with only a little help.

For a first attempt at photogrammetry, an object that would be straightforward to digitise was needed. A plaster bust from the University of Bristol Library’s Special Collections department was suitable, since its matt surface would not reflect light, which can create problems when building the 3D model.  Also, being mounted on a plinth would make it possible to take photographs from all perspectives without having to turn over the object.

3 views of a digitised plaster bust
DM2171/13, University of Bristol Special Collections

The second object was chosen because it was particularly fragile and in need of a digital surrogate that people could study in order to minimise handling of the original. It was, unusually, a piece of toast, held by the University of Bristol’s Theatre Collection, which originated as a piece of publicity by Julie Flowers and Rosalind Howell for a live art performance entitled ‘Grill… A piece of toast’ at the National Review of Live Art 1994 Platform.

It is preferable to have even, natural lighting over the object to be photographed. Outdoors on a cloudy day would probably be the ideal situation, but indoor photogrammetry will normally be necessary when dealing with artefacts from the archives. It is best to avoid flash. In digitising the plaster bust and the toast, two lights were positioned to reflect off the white ceiling, to minimise shadows. LED lamps are best, when dealing with sensitive items, for purposes of preservation.

A turntable can be used to rotate the object while keeping the camera in a stationary position, but it is also possible to move with the camera around a stationary object if a turntable is not available.

Photographs should be taken from several levels with, roughly, a 30% to 50% overlap between images. The idea is to get coverage of all surfaces of the object, with enough overlap between the individual photographs to allow the software to identify common points and match up the images. Any part of the object not captured in a photograph will appear as a hole in the finished 3D model, so it is important to photograph any obscured parts of the object, for example up the nose or under the chin of the plaster bust.

The toast, having two sides, needed to be turned over (very gingerly, by the Archivist) and the process repeated with the second side. People have tried other solutions for capturing all surfaces of an object, such as finding ingenious ways to balance or suspend it, or placing it on a transparent surface, but these methods are not without problems (especially for a fragile object) so it seemed best to capture the two sides of the toast separately and rely on the software finding enough common points on the toast edges to match the two sides correctly.

The software used to process the photographs into a digital model was Agisoft Photoscan, which is straightforward for beginners to use as it has a workflow, beginning with adding the photographs and directing the user through the different stages of the process.

Once the photographs are added, Photoscan aligns the images by comparing the different viewpoints of the photographs and builds a sparse point cloud, which is a raw 3D model made of points but no edges. This can be tidied up, if wished, before building a dense point cloud. Depending on the number of images and capability of the computer, a significant amount of processing time may be needed.

The next stage is to build a mesh, which is a polygonal model, based on the point cloud data, so a bit like joining the dots of the point cloud. The final step adds the coloured textures that wrap around the model so that it looks realistic.

The 3D model of the plaster bust came out well first time, but it took several attempts for Photoscan to fit together the two sides of the toast. The best method turned out to be to process the photographs in two batches, one for each side of the toast, and then to match the two sides together by marking the same identifiable point on the edges of each half, so that Photoscan could correctly align the two halves into one 3D whole. In addition, the background, on which the toast had lain, needed to be manually edited out, as Photoscan had not recognised that this was not part of the object, which had happened automatically with the bust.

The 3D model can then be exported and three files will be generated: an .obj file containing the 3D geometry; a .png or.jpg file containing the colour and texture information; and the colour placement information (.mtl) which provides co-ordinates to map the colour and texture on to the geometry.

The final model can be viewed in Windows 3D Viewer, or uploaded to an online platform for sharing, such as Sketchfab.

The Library Research Support team runs courses on 3D digitisation, which concentrate on photogrammetry, but also touch on structured light scanning. The team also has a selection of equipment, including cameras, scanners and a PC with the Agisoft Photoscan software, which can be booked and used by University of Bristol researchers.  You can find out more on our digital humanities webpages.

Library launches new researcher metrics support service

Why metrics support?

Research metrics or indicators are quantitative measures designed to evaluate research outputs.  The term encompasses citation metrics, also known as bibliometrics, which are based on traditional scholarly citations, and ‘alternative’ metrics based on attention in social media, news, policy documents, code repositories and other online sources.  These metrics are increasingly being used to benchmark research performance and provide an indication of research impact in funding applications, by promotion and progression boards, and feed into university league table rankings and REF2021 assessments.

It’s attractive to think that the complexities of evaluating one piece of research against another could be simplified by using metrics, but these indicators have serious limitations that must be acknowledged if they are to be used effectively.  Metrics are significantly affected by differences in citation patterns across disciplines, sub-specialities, and researcher career stage, and can be subject to ‘gaming’ – deliberate inflation of citation counts.  As a result, qualitative review must always be used alongside a range of indicators to give a true picture of research impact.

“Carefully selected indicators can complement decision-making, but a ‘variable geometry’ of expert judgement, quantitative indicators and qualitative measures that respect research diversity will be required.”

Wilsdon, J., et al. (2015). The Metric Tide: Report of the Independent Review of the Role of Metrics in Research Assessment and Management. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.1.4929.1363

With this in mind, the library’s Research Support team has launched a researcher metrics support service to help researchers access accurate metrics data, and select and interpret appropriate indicators.  The scope of the service was determined in consultation with Research and Enterprise Development (RED); library support will focus on individual researchers, whereas RED will retain support for strategic bids and projects requiring metrics information.

Service priorities

Useful research metrics are dependent on the quality of the source data: accurately attributed publications.  A key task for the metrics service will be to help researchers correct attribution information for their publications.  The University subscribes to SciVal for access to research management information based on Scopus citation data, so initially this support will focus on Scopus author profiles, although other systems will be added later if there is demand.  Additionally, we promote the use of ORCiD researcher identifiers to easily link author profiles in different systems, including Scopus and the University’s current research information system, Pure.

Other library support offered to researchers includes:

      • web guidance
      • workshops (in development)
      • SciVal deskside training
      • enquiry service

The online guidance covers a range of topics, including an overview of important indicators and where they can be accessed, suggested use cases for metrics, an introduction to different tools available to access and analyse indicators, and signposts to the support available from RED and other departments.

Access our guidance at or email for support.

Research Support at the Jean Golding Institute Data Week 2019

The Jean Golding Institute’s Data Week 2019 (20th – 24th May) is a week of workshops, talks and other events on data science and reproducible research, including data analysis, visualisation, coding and more.  The Library’s Research Support team is running two events as part of Data Week – our regular “Introduction to Open Research” and a brand new workshop on sensitive data: “Managing ethically sensitive data: from planning to sharing”.  The full programme for Data Week is available at


The “Introduction to Open Research” workshop is aimed at postgraduate and early career researchers and acts as a basic introduction to Open Access (OA), research data management, and research metrics.  Attendees will cover OA and research data sharing requirements of the Research Excellence Framework (REF), the University, and of major funding bodies.  There will be an overview of the different research support systems in place at the University to help researchers meet these requirements, including the Research Data Storage Facility (RDSF), the data.bris Research Data Repository, and a live demonstration of how to add publications to Pure.  Finally, attendees will be given a brief introduction to key research metrics, how these are calculated, and how they can access and benchmark their personal research metrics data.


“Managing ethically sensitive data: from planning to sharing” is a new workshop aimed at researchers at any career stage who are dealing with ethically sensitive data; that is, data involving humans or at-risk species.  In practice, it is likely to be most relevant for researchers in health and social sciences working with human research participants.  Attendees will learn how to safely deal with personal data in a research context, including participant rights and researcher responsibilities with regards to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2019 (DPA 2018), what services the University provides to help researchers collect and store sensitive data, and how to construct consent forms and patient information sheets that will permit data sharing at the end of a project.  Finally, attendees will be given an introduction into methods for preparing sensitive data for sharing: this will include an overview of documentation requirements and the different data sharing platforms and mechanisms available to researchers, as well as an introduction to the concepts of formal, statistical and functional anonymisation and how these can be applied to datasets to reduce disclosure risk.


We’ve had a great deal of interest in the latter workshop, and while this weeks’ event is sold out we do plan to repeat the sensitive data workshop later in the year.  We’ll also be expanding our online sensitive data bootcamp to include some of the issues covered in the live workshop.

March: Focus on Health Science

We have visited a lot of health researchers over the last month. Clinicians and researchers are spread across the University’s sites, so we’ve focused on providing our Open Research workshops for Health Sciences researchers where they work, starting in Canynge Hall and Dorothy Hodgkin Building. We have future plans to run the workshop at hospital sites such as Southmead, to support clinical researchers in situ.

The workshops cover Open Access publications and funder requirements, depositing papers and theses in Pure, Research Data Management, the data.bris repository, the Research Data Storage Facility and researcher metrics, so it’s a broad overview of how researchers can take steps be more open across the board. Plenty of questions came up, and it was really thought-provoking to hear researchers talk about their different career paths and their motivations to do research.

In addition to the workshops, we were invited to talk at the Centre for Academic Primary Care’s (CAPC) monthly meeting about our process for sharing sensitive data with external researchers. This question arises not only because researchers at other institutions hear about research at Bristol, but also because of an increased requirement from funders and publishers to provide a means of access to data from publicly funded research. We often receive queries from researchers working with sensitive data and whilst the themes are mostly the same, the circumstances of each case often requires careful consideration, so it was a great opportunity to learn about the issues CAPC researchers face and discuss how we can support them.

At CAPC we defined sensitive data in the context of research involving human participants. We discussed the circumstances where anonymisation is either not possible, or where anonymising would strip value from the dataset. Researchers were particularly interested in the process we have for sharing sensitive data through the research data repository, data.bris, and how we have access levels specifically designed for this purpose. We talked about how decisions to share are made via a Data Access Committee, how we check researchers are bona fide, and what is covered by data access agreements. We were also able to emphasise the importance of getting consent sheets worded in a way that makes it simple for researchers to share sensitive data. Off of the back of this talk, we’ve assisted three researchers with their consent form wording and ethics applications and prevented snags further down the line at the publication stage, so it was a worthwhile visit.

It also gave us the opportunity to give researchers a taster of the kinds of issues we’ll be covering at our upcoming workshops ‘Managing ethically sensitive research data: from planning to sharing,’ and interest was piqued so spaces filled very quickly! However, there are waitlists running and we will be repeating the workshop in the Autumn term and beyond.

New Wellcome Trust Open Access Policy from 2020

In early November 2018 the Wellcome Trust announced a new Open Access policy.  It will apply to articles submitted for publication from 1st January 2020.

Key points and changes

1. Date for implementation: 1 January 2020 – in the meantime authors should continue to comply with the current policy.

2. Wellcome Trust has joined cOAlition-S, and this is the first major funder’s policy that aligns with Plan-S.

3. The policy applies to articles that include original, peer-reviewed research, but not monographs and books.

4. All Wellcome-funded articles must be made freely available through PMC and Europe PMC at the time of publication.

5. All articles, even those where no Article Processing Charge (APC) has been paid, must be published under a CC-BY licence.

6. To be compliant authors can publish:-

a) In any fully OA journal indexed in Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) + depositing in PMC/EuropePMC + publishing with CC-BY.

b) In any subscription journal with a green route which allows deposit of Author Accepted Manuscript (AAM) in PMC & EuropePMC without embargo and with CC-BY.

c) With any publisher with a ‘transformative agreement’ during the 2-year period Jan 2020 to Dec 2021.

7. Wellcome will no longer pay OA publication costs in ‘hybrid’ journals (subscription journal with paid OA option).

8. Where there is a significant public health benefit to preprints being shared widely and rapidly, these preprints must be published before peer review, on an approved platform that supports immediate publication of the complete manuscript, and under a CC-BY licence.

9. Wellcome-funded organisations must sign or publicly commit to the principles of the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) or an equivalent. (University of Bristol has signed DORA).

10. Further information from Wellcome is awaited regarding a list of compliant preprint platforms, a list of approved Jisc Collections transformative OA agreements, and information on how to check if specific journals are compliant with the policy.

The new policy and FAQ can be found on the Wellcome’s Open Access policy page.

For more information please contact

What is Plan S?

What is Plan S?

Plan S is a strategy to accelerate the transition to full Open Access of Research. It is being put forward by a group of European research funders called cOAlition S. This group includes UKRI, the ERC and the Wellcome Trust

Does this affect the REF?

Research England have confirmed that the OA policy for REF 2021 will not change but the UKRI is currently conducting a review of Open Access which will report in late 2019 with a new policy expected to apply in 2020.

Will the University of Bristol implement Plan S?

The University requires our researchers to comply with the requirements of their individual funders. The Wellcome Trust have already released a new policy in line with Plan S and the Library will support researchers in meeting the requirements of these policies wherever possible.

When does it take effect?

Officially, Plan S comes into effect on the 1st of January 2020 and The Wellcome Trust has already  announced their policy will come into effect on that date. We have not as yet had confirmation from other funders when any other policies will come into effect.

What will Open Access look like under Plan S?

Gold (Paid) Open Access

Gold (paid) open access, will be possible in gold-only open access journals where paying a fee is the only way to publish (e.g. Nature Communications, PloS One). An Article Processing Charge (APC) will still be charged, but there is an expectation that the charge will be capped so that there is a maximum amount a publisher can charge. We do not know what this amount will be yet.

The article will need to be made openly available on the publisher’s website immediately on publication under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) or Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (CC-BY-SA) licence.

The journal will pay for its operating costs from the revenue gained by Article Processing Charges.

Green (Self-Archiving) Open Access

Green (self-archiving) open access will still be possible, but only if the publisher allowed the Author’s Accepted Manuscript to be made available upon publication without an embargo. At the moment, some publishers allow this (SAGE, IEEE, Cambridge University Press’ Humanities and Social Sciences journals) but many other publishers would need to change their policies.

The article will need to be made openly available on Explore Bristol Research, by uploading a copy to Pure (or other trusted repository), immediately on publication under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) or Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (CC-BY-SA) licence.

The journal will pay for its operating costs from subscriptions bought by libraries and other organisations that would benefit from seamless access to its articles.

Hybrid Open Access

Plan S will not allow funding for publication in hybrid journals (those that charge both subscription fees and Article Processing Charges).

It may be temporarily possible to pay for Gold open access in these hybrid journals, while transitional arrangements to move to full open access are put in place by the publishers. We don’t know which publishers will have approved transitional agreements at this stage

Will I still be able to publish where I want?

That depends upon what the publishers decide. If they change their open access policies to be compliant with Plan S, then you will be able to publish with them.

Under Plan S funders and institutions are expected to provide funds to pay for Gold-only Article Processing Charges (or approved publishers in the processing of transitioning to full open access). If funds are not available then you will either have to obtain a waiver from the publisher, or publish somewhere else.

If the journal is Green open access then you will need to be able to upload your Author’s Accepted Manuscript to Pure (or other trusted repository) without an embargo. If the publisher does not permit this then you will be unable to publish there.

What other changes are required?

Plan S also requires authors to retain their copyright and not to transfer this to the publisher when signing a publishing agreement.

What support will the library provide?

The Library will continue to support the institutional repository service for researchers to upload their work. We will continue to provide access to any Open Access funds provided by funding agencies or the University. And we will continue to provide support, advice, training and guidance on Open Access and how best to comply with funder and publisher requirements.

Summary of the Changes

  • Authors must retain copyright in their publications
  • Publications must be published under an open licence, preferably CC-BY
  • The research output must be immediately available without an embargo period
  • Green open access may be compliant if the research output is immediately available on publication
  • Publishing in hybrid (ie subscription-based) journals is not allowed
  • There will be a cap on the maximum allowable fee for open access publication costs

Further Information

Guidance on the implementation of Plan S

Opportunity to feedback on Plan S (open until 1st February)

New Wellcome Trust Policy (to start on 1st Jan 2020)

If you have any queries related to the above please contact

Digital technologies for Arts Faculty researchers

researchers trying out digital technologies

Recently, the Library Research Support team hosted two drop-in events to showcase some of the digital technologies that have potential for use by researchers in the Arts Faculty.  We wanted to explore how researchers might apply the different technologies to their own projects and to discover which they envisaged as being most useful, in order to inform planning for future developments in our Library service provision.

One of the technologies displayed was 3D digitisation.  3D digitisation can be achieved either by scanning an object, or by photogrammetry: a technique where many photographs are taken of an object and complied into a 3D representation by specialist software.  The 3D representation may then be viewed on a screen, where it can be rotated to show all angles, or viewed in virtual reality, or printed in 3D.

A demonstration of 3D printing was in progress during the event and visitors saw and handled a variety of printed objects. Printed 3D objects allow tactile engagement with the subjects of research and may be used for study in order to preserve fragile originals, for experimentation, to demonstrate relative sizes, as models to cast to produce a facsimile, or for engagement or impact activities.

The DIY computing table featured a Raspberry Pi (a single-board microcomputer) and an Arduino (a programmable circuit board, or microcontroller, with the software to program it).  These can be used for a variety of activities, including data visualization, automation, or controlling other devices, such as the Arduino-controlled drone also on display.   There were examples of connectors and boards on which a microcomputer and components could be mounted, as well as a humidity sensor and a barometer, as examples of sensors that could be connected to a microcomputer.

Visitors to the event saw two examples of 360-degree video cameras, which may be used to record, for instance, performances, events, interiors or landscapes.  360-degree footage can be shown through a virtual reality headset, or alternatively on computers or mobile devices. Such videos may form research data or be a final output of research. 

Our virtual reality headsets proved to be the most popular draw of the events.  Visitors experienced VR representations of historic sites and interiors and watched 360-degree videos through the headsets.  Great excitement (not to mention a touch of motion sickness) was apparent in those who travelled to Everest Base Camp in VR!  VR may be used in research to study social situations, to explore environments, to watch performances, to view exhibitions or in training applications.  Some of the researchers at the event talked to us about how reconstructing historical interiors would be useful in their work and there were also conversations exploring potential educational uses of VR. 

As part of their visit to the event, researchers were asked to complete a survey to help us gauge interest in the different digital technologies and we will use this feedback to inform future planning.  If you did not attend the event, but might be interested in using digital technologies in your research, we would be glad to hear your views via our survey.

Look out for a similar event for Social Scientists coming soon.